Fast Freddie Markham, 30, is the record holder of world land speed records for human powered vehicles, and yesterday he tried, and failed, to break his own mileage record in a one-hour bicycle race.
He has been in town all week for the International Human Powered Vehicles Association Championship at Anacostia Park.
During that time the drivers raced in sprint events and road races in some of the strangest looking bicycles ever seen. Some are shaped like flying saucers flipped on their sides, some like submarines, some like bullets. And although they appeared to be hovering inches above the ground, they were actually modified bicycles encased in aerodynamic shells.
Markham won all of the races this week, although he fell short of breaking his sprint record of 65.48 mph Wednesday, going just 53 mph due to the short track.
The top 10 sprinters lined up at Anacostia Park yesterday for a one-hour race. Markham's world record is 41.8 mph and he wanted to break it. He shot out to a quick lead and within 30 minutes had lapped the field. But he averaged just 1 minute 20 seconds per lap, his fastest being a 1:14 near the end of the hour, well above world-record pace. He finished just shy of 45 complete laps, giving him an approximate finish of 33.16 mph.
"I can live with that," he said. "It was my record I was trying to break."
In his 10th year of racing human powered vehicles, he is clearly the best on the circuit. But the college students, most of them members of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, are closing in.
"That's all he does," said California State at Chico senior Mike Peavy. The Chico team is the collegiate champion, owner of the college speed record of 57.7 mph. "But he's only beating us by four miles per hour," said Peavy. "I can't imagine what we'll do if we get serious."
The team from the University of California at Davis came for the sole purpose of beating Chico. They did. Chico driver Jon Arthur drove off the course at the start, losing 15 seconds he could never recover. Senior Manny Diaz rode Davis' Accelerator III to second place, averaging 31.65 mph. Chico's Cafe Ole finished third 20 seconds behind.
"The point was to beat Chico," Diaz said. "There's no way we'll beat Freddy. He's in a class by himself. This is part of our education, I've learned more on this thing than in any classroom."